Serve #20 – Joanne Kersten
Written by Scott Whitman
Co-Founder WOVEN (With One Voice Energizing Neighborhoods)
For professor Joanne Kersten, music is more than an art or vocation, it’s an instrument of hope.
Joanne is a co-founder of WOVEN (With One Voice Energizing Neighborhoods), a program she launched in 2002 with fellow North Central University professor, Larry Bach, in response to the desperate need they saw in the neighborhoods surrounding their downtown Minneapolis campus.
They saw children living under the heavy burden of poverty, abuse and neglect – children who could see no future for themselves, other than what drugs or gangs might offer.
But in the midst of the abuse and poverty, Joanne also saw potential. She asked, “What if we can help these children see something more in themselves?”
WOVEN matches college music students with neighborhood kids in a unique mentoring partnership. The children commit to meeting the attendance and conduct standards of the program, and in turn receive free weekly music lessons and one-on-one mentoring from a college student. These partnerships, which often extend for many semesters, have created a safe-haven for more than 100 neighborhood children since the program began, transforming the lives of many along the way.
Joanne says the process of learning music theory, and the practical discipline of preparing for musical performance, lays a foundation for greater literacy, personal responsibility, confidence and self-worth.
For many of the children, participating in WOVEN gave them a different view of what was possible.
“The program helps them know they can be something else. It becomes a form of drug prevention, or pregnancy prevention. They begin to want something more for themselves,” said Joanne.
“The children – and even their parents or guardians – are surrounded with positive ideas, positive people, and cannot help but be inspired by these talented and energetic college students,” said Joanne.
The benefits go both ways. The NCU students, immersing themselves in the lives of their young charges, learn what it means to serve with humility.
“Our college students come here from their own towns and schools where they were stars. They get thrown into the competitive college environment and often struggle to find their footing,” said Joanne, “By serving as teachers in WOVEN, these students begin to see themselves as contributors with something to offer. It gives them perspective, and a vision for their own future,” said Joanne.
But ultimately for Joanne, and everyone involved in WOVEN, it’s really about hope – finding it, and giving it.
“We all need the same thing, whether privileged or poor,” says Joanne. “Children can live through some pretty dark stuff. God’s made us pretty resilient. But to really grow, children need light.”
Joanne urges us to invest ourselves in shining that light: “Do whatever you can, no matter how simple, to bring people light and hope. Do it for the children.”
“Tell Your Story”